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Neandertals had an eye for patterns

Notches on a raven bone suggests human relatives intentionally created even spacing

Different views of raven wing bone

CUTS ABOVE  Notches carved into a raven’s wing bone by Neandertals include two that were added to create a consistent, possibly symbolic pattern, scientists say. Added notches are second from bottom and second from top in the side view of the bone.

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Neandertals knew how to kick it up a couple of notches. Between 38,000 and 43,000 years ago, these close evolutionary relatives of humans added two notches to five previous incisions on a raven bone to produce an evenly spaced sequence, researchers say.

This visually consistent pattern suggests Neandertals either had an eye for pleasing-looking displays or saw some deeper symbolic meaning in the notch sequence, archaeologist Ana Majkić of the University of Bordeaux, France, and her colleagues report March 29 in PLOS ONE.

Notches added to the bone, unearthed in 2005 at a Crimean rock shelter that previously yielded Neandertal bones, were shallower and more quickly dashed off than the original five notches. But additions were carefully placed, resulting in relatively equal spacing of all notches.

Although bone notches may have had a practical use, such as fixing thread on an eyeless needle, the even spacing suggests Neandertals had a deeper meaning in mind — or at least knew what looked good.

Previous discoveries suggest Neandertals made eagle-claw necklaces and other personal ornaments, possibly for use in rituals (SN: 4/18/15, p. 7).

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